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ASE at Inspiring Women in Science Symposium

10 May 2018

Asst Prof Janice Lee   Deepa Mele Veedu

ASE was visible at the inaugural College of Science Symposium “Inspiring Women in Science” last week, through Asst Prof. Janice Lee being an invited speaker and Ms Deepa Mele Veedu winning the Women in Science Travel Grant Award.

The symposium was arranged by the College of Science as a means of promoting women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Despite women making up half or more of students at undergraduate and graduate level (at least in science), the gender gap persists at higher levels in the university hierarchy. In his opening remarks, NTU Provost Ling San, presented statistics that showed some trends in the direction towards increasing female representation at NTU, but, as pointed out by invited speaker Prof. Zee Upton, executive director at IMB A*Star, the proportion of women at the level of professor or dean is still very small.

In an insightful talk, ASE’s Asst. Prof. Janice Lee highlighted three key areas for promoting women in science, based on her own experience as a Singaporean female scientist, both overseas and in Singapore. From the top management, she called for active measures to build supportive working environments, with leaders being receptive to the needs and situations of all employees. Working on creating an inclusive environment, where everyone gets listened to, can help lab groups grow as a team as well as increasing awareness of women’s experience of working in science and help create a culture that supports women. She also pointed out that in many scientific fields jobs are scarce and one thing that employers can do is to “simply acknowledge the possibility of unconscious bias at play during any hiring process”, as studies show that a bias towards male applicants exists.

The issue of balancing family and research career is often brought up as a reason for women falling behind at work, however, both Asst. Prof. Lee and the other speakers emphasized that though more support at a structural level is needed, there are ways around the care-giving responsibilities for example through personal organizational strategies. An overall take home message was for young female scientists to put themselves out there and go for it.

One promising young female scientist who is doing just that and has a strong drive to advance science is Ms. Deepa Mele Veedu, PhD student in Earthquake Physics at ASE, who was one of the winners of the College of Science Women in Science Travel Grant. Ms. Mele Veedu had a flying start to her research career with her first publication being a first-authoured paper in Nature in 2016. Her research fields are earthquake cycle modelling and seismic hazards, she has a broad background in geophysics and the travel grant is only one in a long row of grants and awards she has won.

Using numerical simulations, she has shown that rocks can break basically in two different ways, through slow and fast ruptures consecutively. Such studies are critical to translate theoretical understanding of rock mechanics to useful earthquake prediction. The travel grant would help her to share her current work on identifying alternating slow and fast ruptures in laboratory experiments to the scientific community.

Responding to the travel grant from the college of science, she says that, to advance science and society, both women and men should work together and compete in a common platform.